Aspect 3(a): A Mission Focused on the Nations (An Awkward Tension)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

The SBC has always had international missions at the center of its concern. This is no secret. The Triennial Convention met for the express purpose of organizing international missions activities in general and the work of Luther Rice and the Judsons in particular.[1] The SBC, after having been established in 1845, soon formed the Foreign Mission board, through which churches have supported thousands of missionaries. Today, the number of SBC missionaries hovers at more than approximately 5,600 while the budget of the International Mission Board is approximately $300 million.[2] Because of a serious shortfall in funding, the IMB plans to reduce the number of personnel to 5,000 by 2010. If we are not careful, our “focus on” the nations might become a “passing glance toward” them. The goal of the GCR is to reverse this trend and to do so as quickly as possible.

An Awkward Tension

Reflection upon the biblical narrative makes it clear that our efforts fall short. Revelation 5 serves to illustrate the point. This chapter portrays perhaps the most breathtaking and glorious vision in all of Scripture. In it, God gives a vision to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was being held captive in his old age on the island of Patmos. In the midst of the vision, John sees the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders prostrate before the Lord, singing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10). And again, together with all of heaven, they were singing with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).

In this passage, which reveals to us the consummation of God’s redemptive purposes, we note two truths in particular. First, we note that there is something so profoundly true, and so deeply good, and so strikingly beautiful about our God that he finds for himself worshipers among every type of person on the face of the earth. He brings his salvation not just to every continent, and not merely to every nation-state, but also to every “tribe and tongue and people and nation”- to every people across the span of history and to the farthest reaches of the globe. In doing so, he makes clear that he is superior to all other “gods” and that he is intent upon winning the nations to himself. This is no footnote to redemptive history. It stands front and center. God killed his Son in order to redeem the nations. In the words of our Lord, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14).

Second, we learn that this salvation comes through Christ alone. John tells us that the creatures and elders sing to the Lamb: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood.” Salvation is wrought by the shed blood of the Lamb of God. For this reason, Luke describes him as the chief cornerstone of the church and writes: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In this vein, Paul writes “through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Rom 1:5) And it is for this reason that we sing: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

But we must not allow these two points to stand alone. We must place beside them two glaring realities. The first reality is that there are several billion people who have little or no access to the gospel. They could search for days and months and years and never find a Bible or a Christian or a church. The second reality is that there has been perhaps no network of churches at any time in history which is as well placed as ours to take the gospel to the nations. There are those who have never heard the gospel, to whom we could easily take the gospel, and yet we do not. The question we all must ask is, “Why?”

Here is the bottom line: If we believe that salvation comes through Christ alone, and if we know that two billion people have little or no access to the gospel, then we are faced with a dilemma. Either we build Great Commission churches and accomplish the task that God has given us, or we force the Lord to plow around us to accomplish his will. Indeed, the Lord will accomplish his will. The question before us is, “Will we be found in his will or watching from the sidelines in disobedience?” We are hopeful it will be the former.

[1] Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, 38.

[2] In 1997, the SBC’s study, “Covenant for a New Century,” recommended that the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) change its name to the International Mission Board (IMB).

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  1. imbintern   •  

    Is it possible that the monetary shortage of projected donations with the IMB – all talk of gross misuse of funds beside – is God’s providence in the whole situation? Maybe for too long we, as Southern Baptists, have been so focused on sending out rogue agents for a couple of years who are not really called to be missionaries and sending them on glorified vacations where they “live out the gospel.” Having been a part of the Company, I’ve seen first hand that there are great missionaries and there are not so great missionaries; people that are living out the Gospel message and others that are coasting until they get done with their two years or three years of service so that they can come home to start a pizza business. Is that genuinely someone who is “called” to be a missionary? What specifications are we using to weed through the process and send the best of the best? For it seems to me that the whole choosing process and the 8-9 week training process doesn’t weed people out from being send overseas for 3 years – even if they are not theologically trained to teach a 4 year old Sunday School class. There are going to be problems in any man-made organization, yet shouldn’t we be more faithful with the money that God has given us to use to build up His kingdom? Shouldn’t our men and women be trained theologically and agree wholeheartedly to the BFM and to our vision for the nations? Maybe God is allowing this economic downturn to dissuade some people who are looking to jet out of the country for a couple of years and live off of the generosity of people who are desiring to see the Gospel progress, or maybe providentially God is allowing this to happen so that we take a step back and really look at the men and women that we are sending overseas to see if they meet the requirements of an elder/deacon within their home churches before we send them overseas. Also, I think it is important to remember that the IMB is not the hope of the world; the Gospel of Jesus is the hope of the world. And if the IMB is not stepping up to the plate and training and equipping people to go overseas theologically, methodologically, and ecclesiologically, then maybe we should greatly reform her.

  2. Ken   •  

    BTT Said: The SBC has always had international missions at the center of its concern.

    In the past maybe,now? I question that. I know you guys are doing a great job at challenging your students go. Keep it up. But…I am truly concerned about our churches and therefore the convention.

    I have come to think we (SB Churches) are not concerned with the ethnos hardly at all. This comes from years of seeking to work with pastors and staff who have little to no concern about the 2 Billion with NO access. If they do go they opt for safe easy places that have more to do with the witnesser than the lost.

    This lack of concern can also be seen in our convention.
    We place the IMB report at the SBC convention at 9PM on the last night? That is crazy. No one is around. If missions were important then the report would be at a prime time in our convention gathering.

    We (SBConvention) will get what we value. We do not value sending missional churches or pastors who send out people right and left. We also do not value strategic churches who attempt the hard places. So we end up with churches who may give some to LM or CP, but few who really send people to the ethnos.
    You guys at SEBTS are offering the challenge like no other seminary I know of, so keep up the good work. I hope that in generations to come your students will be the ones who turn it around!

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Ken, you are right on all counts, with the caveat (with which I think you agree) that a good number of our churches do have the nations at the forefront of their ministry vision.

  4. ken   •  

    Totally agreed and would never want to short change those who are doing it.

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